Steve Ballmer gives Jerry Yang a Bear Hug

Steve Ballmer lays it on thick in a letter sent to Jerry Yang of Yahoo before going public with the offer:

“Together we can unleash new levels of innovation, delivering enhanced user experiences, breakthroughs in search, and new advertising platform capabilities. We hope that you and your board share our enthusiasm.â€?

This was no love letter. Mr. Ballmer was following a storied tradition on Wall Street: the bear hug letter. Before mounting a hostile bid and going in for the kill, suitors send a bear hug — named for a popular wrestling maneuver — to their targets.

One part Emily Post and two parts Machiavelli, these oh-so-cordial notes are sent by unwanted suitors in an attempt to broker a peaceful deal. But they always carry an implicit threat: Rebuff this advance and you’re in for a fight.

Of course, less than 24 hours after sending the letter to Yahoo, Microsoft made it public, just in case there was any confusion that it was a private correspondence among old friends. (At least Mr. Ballmer was kind enough to give Mr. Yang a courtesy call before going public with his $44.6 billion bid.)

Some bear hug letters are kept from public view and are sent in confidence, in hopes of bringing a company to the negotiating table. Those are known as teddy bear hugs. But others, like Mr. Ballmer’s, are written for public consumption. Those are known — less politely — as grizzly bear hugs.

Please get the nauseating image of the big sweaty ape of a man giving Jerry Yang an actual bear hug out of my head!

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